Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

I don’t eat meat. Should I let my children eat it?

with 8 comments

Sometimes, the things you once said come back to bite you.
It might have been utttered because you believed the “promise” you made on a particular subject would never materialise. Or it might have been said rashly to gloss over the problem, so it could be filed under “things to tackle in the distant future” category of your brain.
I find myself in a situation where something I said nine years ago – and repeated seven years ago –  has come back to haunt me. It’s my fault and it has put me right in the middle of an ethical dilemma.
The problem is this: I don’t eat meat. My partner does, but we eat vegetarian meals at home. He is happy with this arrangement – but takes the opportunity when he can to eat meat. I am fine with that, too.
When we had children, he agreed that we could bring them up on a meat-free diet.
It has slipped slightly as I – and the family – now eat fish (strictly speaking this makes me a pescetarian, but it sounds like a cop out and slightly ludicrous).
So, what was the promise I made? It was this:
If, when the children are old enough to understand how/why animals are killed for meat and they are happy with that they can eat it.
The trouble is, I imagined them to be happy non-meat eaters, skipping in a rose-tinted world of Quorn and vegetarian meals.
Over the past few months, though, they have decided they want to eat meat. They’ve seen programmes about animal husbandry and how the creatures are slaughtered for the plate; they have simultaneously said “how cruel” and “I want to eat meat” when discussions have taken place about farming practices; they claim they understand what it is all about.
Now I want to backtrack; I want to go back on what I have said before. I did muse about compromising and allowing them to eat only organic meat, but even that upsets me.
There are a myriad problems with my attitude – and I understand that I might be appearing selfish, childish and too controlling. I appreciate that I am setting a bad example by doing a u-turn on this issue.
If I keep resisting their urge to eat meat (although they did eat some at Christmas), they’ll probably run to McDonalds (another bugbear of mine) and trough down a Big Mac as soon as they are old enough to go on their own.
If I allow them the occasional meaty meal, then the “forbidden fruit” aspect of it could dissipate and they might – just might – decide that they don’t want to eat it anyway.
I’m not one for banging on about animal cruelty. It was my choice not to eat meat. The reasons were personal and I don’t tut or berate anyone for choosing to eat pork, beef, chicken etc.
The fact that I eat fish probably negates all my arguments about a meat-free diet.
No one is asking me to forego my beliefs and eat animal flesh; the whole family knows that 99 per cent of the time the meals on the table will not contain meat.
But, why can’t I let this one go? I’m wracking my brains and know I’ll probably have to make a decision soon – before it is taken out of my hands.


Written by CommonPeople

January 22, 2009 at 11:46 am

8 Responses

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  1. IMO you should probably let them eat meat, for the sole reason that as you mention, if you don’t, they’ll just be more keen on eating it and they’ll surely find plenty of chances to do it. On the other hand you could tell them that meat repulses you and you don’t want to cook with “because it’s like making food out of a friend/pet”, but that when they are old enough they can cook it themselves if they want (or something). This would stress the importance that you don’t like the idea of meat (which suggests to them that it’s not so good) but it’s not because you want to control them and they are allowed to make their owen choices.

    Disclaimer: I’m not a parent (and will never be one), just a vegetarian. What I do know is that they say the best way to get your kids to eat veggies is to turn them into rewards instead of punishments (e.g. “if you clean your room you’ll get a carrot”). For kids, attitude seems to be everything in food. If you don’t want them to eat something, they crave it. If you do try to impose something on them, they’ll avoid it.

    Maija Haavisto

    January 22, 2009 at 12:04 pm

  2. How interesting Jayne. My kids are veggie too, and I have said exactly what you did all those years ago that when they are older they can make their own choice. At the moment it seems like a long way off, but as you say it will eventually come back to bite you. I imagine I will deal with it, when the time comes, by letting them eat meat away from the home (as your husband does) but remain non-meat eaters when you are doing the cooking. As for being selfish, to me “forcing” your veggie prinicples on your children is no different to “forcing” your meat eating principles (if there is such a thing) on them.


    January 23, 2009 at 9:28 am

  3. Yes, I agree with Lisa (and a good blog Jayne). I’m somewhere in the middle in that I eat lots of veggie stuff and also some meat, but only organic/free range – so obviously my daughter does the same. She actually doesn’t like the idea of eating animals and I have told her she can decide when she’s a bit older. So same thing, but in reverse. I explain why we eat ethical meat and I hope she will carry that with her when she’s older and make her choices accordingly

    Ros Dodd

    January 23, 2009 at 9:31 am

  4. Hi, while I can see your dilema on the one hand, and as parents we should guide our children in our own norms and values as much as possible, I don’t agree that you should stop them eating meat. For me it’s the other way around – my kids can become vegetarians if they want to when they are old enough to understand all the issues. It’s the same as relgion for me – let them have an open mind, show them and let them experience options and all life has to bring – and let them chose their own way. Yes I am a meat eater – and failed vegetarian (2 x 1 year in my nearly 40 years of life) for moral reasons but still I want to give my kids a good start in life – not that you don’t of course. We are omnivores we have canine teeth and while I abhor the way animals can be treated I understand that meat is good for brain growth – and like with everything else – everything in moderation.

    The fact that you are stopping your kids eating meat when they want to, doesn’t show an open mind and although it’s good to show morals/principles isn’t it also good for your children to experience things themselves and make up their own mind?. I mean they are not asking to smoke pot or anything! You have shown them no-doubt stronger than most about farming/rearing etc. so they are aware and yet still are wanting to eat meet. Perhaps the ‘forbidden fruit’ aspect but meat is not that in the outside world, only in yours. Of course, if you don’t eat it and are the main cook, then no-one can expect you to cook at – but that’s a different story. My girlfriend hates fish – even the smell of it – so we don’t tend to have it – but I do grab it where I can and cook it myself.

    Just a few thoughts.



    January 23, 2009 at 10:42 pm

  5. Meat is not “good for the brain growth” (fish may be, but meat isn’t). The healthiest way to raise children is to raise them as vegetarians or even better, vegans – but obviously eating meat every now and then isn’t going to do them much harm.

    Maija Haavisto

    January 24, 2009 at 9:26 am

  6. Hi Maija, I knew that I’d be jumped upon by someone. I consider fish as meat by the way. Meat contains many proteins that are needed for good child development. Yes there are alternatives of course and supplements etc.. The same goes for iron (and I don’t need to be preached about spinach thanks) I don’t agree the healthiest way is to raise children as vegetarians and especially vegans. No milk products = very low source of calcium and yes again there are alternatives, but…

    So from my obvious contentious view, you can always tell the children who are forced down the vegan route by their parents/guardians. From my experience they are typically the pale, sickly-looking too-thin children with low energy, always ‘ill’ and very fickle about their food. The sort of kids that other children look at in a strange way. Setting them apart. Moral consciousness is one thing, but common sense is another. Putting your pride before your principles before your dependants might impress some but your children won’t thank you for it later.

    I’m glad that you did add a touch of reason with your last clause about not doing much harm every now and then. I hope that if you are a parent that you will also allow your children to have some fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes, crisps/chips every now and then too. No not good for them in many ways but…


    January 24, 2009 at 1:57 pm

  7. I’ve been studying clinical nutrition for nine years and I’m a medical writer by profession. I do think you (Mike) are being rather silly.

    I know many children who are raised vegan and they are all extremely healthy – much healthier than their peers. Definitely not sickly or pale. I only wish I had been raised that way, as I would be much healthier now, but sadly my parents are extremely misinformed about nutrition.

    FYI, it’s actually easier to get plenty of iron on a vegan diet than when eating both meat and dairy, because dairy greatly impairs the absorption of iron. I’m a good example – I used to have fairly low hemoglobin (129) when I was still eating an omnivorous diet. Now with no meat, no iron supplements and very little dairy, it’s at 148. I’m not sure how they translate to the U.S. units, but here the recommended levels for women tend to be 125-155 or so. My levels might actually be too high, considering that iron is a pro-oxidant and it might be wiser to be closer to the lower end of the scale.

    IMO it is not responsible to let children consume dairy except for very small amounts – definitely not a daily thing. And I don’t say this as a vegetarian or an “animal rights activist” (which I’m definitely not) but as someone who actually understand nutrition and physiology. This is not an ethical perspective, purely a rational one.

    Maija Haavisto

    January 28, 2009 at 12:30 pm

  8. “I’ve been studying clinical nutrition for nine years and I’m a medical writer by profession. I do think you (Mike) are being rather silly.”
    Unfortunately too many times children and adults are lectured by people who claim to know more than they do because they have studied a lot. I could probably find plenty of climical nutritionists who will say that meat is an important part of a balanced diet.

    Back to the original question though – is it right to force a particular diet choice on your children, based on YOUR beliefs. I can understand in early years why this is possible, and causes few if any problems – after all they don’t know any different. The ultimate question is will they resent you for it in later life? Will they blame you for the childhood parties where they have to turn down things like chicken nuggets, ham and pepperoni pizza etc.? Will they be upset when you turn down their party invites to places like McDonalds, Pizza Hut etc. unless you can go along to check what they are eating?

    As non-vegetarian our children have been brought up to be given meat. They understand what it is and where it comes from. They have discussed the questions about the ethicality of meat, and have decided that they DO want to eat it. We have given them the choice and they have exercised it. In fact some of them have progressed to the age where they would prefer to live on crisps and chocolate, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

    As for your children Jayne I suspect that as soon as your back is turned they WILL be off to McD’s with their friends once they are old enough – but that will be THEIR choice, and making that choice is part of their growing up.

    Of course you never know – when they were older they might enforce THEIR views on you – like only cooking meat when you come for dinner!


    February 9, 2009 at 11:53 pm

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